Rock and roll is the quintessential American musical genre. Thousands of albums span multiple decades and sub-genres — plus, there are many songs that address loss, longing, and forgiveness.
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Check out our list below for some of the best songs in this genre for a memorial service or virtual funeral ceremony. And if you want more information about the other aspects of end-of-life planning, check out our post-loss checklist.
COVID-19 tip: If you're hosting a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, make sure to create a unique playlist for the digital reception, too. You can also consider sending the playlist to your guests along with Spotify gift cards as a unique funeral service favor.
Classic rock and roll is the sub-genre with the most timeless songs on the list. Many of these instantly recognizable tunes are embedded in American culture and are featured in countless movies and sporting events. Many are obvious choices for funerals.
Tip: If your loved one embodied the spirit of rock and roll, you can honor their legacy with a personalized urn from Foreverence.
1. Fields of Gold by Sting
The first single off of his Ten Summoner’s Tales is one of Sting’s most recognizable songs. He recorded the track at a 16th-century manor house in England — in a huge barley field. Sting found inspiration while watching the plants sway back and forth in the golden light of the sun.
The song tells the story of a couple who falls in love, lives with one another and eventually passes away. He beautifully and memorably compares these cycles to the changing season.
2. Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler
Midler’s rendition of the classic ballad is one of the most emotional versions of the song. This Grammy award-winning single from the soundtrack of the film Beaches became an international hit upon its release.
3. Candle in the Wind by Elton John
The song is written in memory of Marilyn Monroe and the lyrics describe her brief but intense life. Candle in the Wind is John’s U.K. single off the album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The phrase “candle in the wind” comes from a line used to describe Janis Joplin during her memorial service.
4. Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
Clapton wrote this song in memory of his four-year-old son, Conner, who fell out of a 53-story window to his death. Heartbreaking and powerful, the single went on to win three Grammy Awards and remains one of his best-selling singles.
5. Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks
The lyrics lament the passing of a friend, but also reminisce about the happy days or “seasons in the sun” the two shared. The lyrics are subtle enough to be appropriate for the passing of a loved one. This song remained at the number one spot for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
6. Into the Mystic by Van Morrison
The ethereal song is off the 1970 album Moondance. The song questions what happens to human souls after death. The “mystic” is a term that could mean heaven or perhaps another life. Morrison’s voice gives the track a hopeful feel.
7. Mama, I'm Coming Home by Ozzy Osbourne
An especially sedate track from an artist known for creating heavier music, this is the only solo song of Osbourne’s to break the Billboard Top 40. The lyrics describe his tumultuous relationship with his mother — in the end, he resolves to come home and reunite with her.
8. Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds
This song by Pete Seeger became a worldwide hit in 1965. The lyrics are almost word-for-word verses from Ecclesiastes. The song was especially poignant for many families who lost sons, fathers, and husbands in the Vietnam War.
9. In My Life by The Beatles
This evocative and nostalgic song from the classic album Rubber Soul is arguably one of the best songs of all time. John Lennon felt it was his first major work as a songwriter — it was the first time he’d created lyrics closely based on his own life.
The words describe a deep affection for a person who had remained in Lennon’s life after so many others have come and gone. If you're looking for more Beatles songs, head over to more recommendations for Beatles songs for a funeral.
10. Funeral for a Friend by Elton John
This is the instrumental first half of the opening song off of Elton’s album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. He describes the song as the type of music he wants at his funeral. The synthesizers create a solemn and almost religious-sounding tone.
11. Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios in 1975, the song centers around feelings of longing. The song is reportedly based on the band’s former member, Syd Barrett.
12. Knockin' on Heaven's Door by Guns N' Roses
Although originally written by Bob Dylan, it was the Guns N’ Roses version of the song that hit the high point on the Billboard charts. The lyrics describe a gunslinger questioning if he can continue to live his life in such a reckless way. Axl Rose’s gravelly delivery adds color and character to this melancholy ballad.
13. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Widely considered one of the greatest songs of all time, Led Zeppelin's seminal masterpiece evolves gradually over three sections. It starts slow and becomes more aggressive in the third part.
There are many interpretations as to what the lyrics mean, but it’s a powerful song that evokes deep emotions.
14. The Show Must Go On by Queen
This cryptic yet beautiful song is about the band’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, who was diagnosed with HIV but made the decision to continue to tour and work on music till his final days. Freddie passed away just six weeks after the release of this track.
15. Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum
This wildly popular single off of the 1969 album of the same name sold over two million copies the first year of its release. Norman makes many references to Jesus in the song. He has said in interviews that the song is “his version of a gospel tune.”
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Best Hard Rock Funeral Songs
Hard rock is the genre of choice for giant stadiums of people but can also be intimate and emotional. Here’s our selection of some of the best hard rock funeral songs.
Tip: Creating a funeral playlist might be just a small part of your post-death responsibilities. If you need help sorting it all out, check out our post-loss checklist.
16. Watch Over You by Alter Bridge
This track is the second single of the band’s 2008 album, Blackbird. Slower and more subdued than the band’s heavier music, the song features an acoustic guitar and Myles Kennedy’s vocals.
The lyrics question what will become of the singer’s loved ones after he passes.
17. Keep Me In Your Heart by Warren Zevon
Heartbreaking and personal, Zevon wrote this song after being diagnosed with cancer. It was the last track on his final album “The Wind,” which won a Grammy for the best folk album and came out two weeks after his death.
18. Everything I Own by Bread
Many think this 1973 song is about unrequited love, but the singer/writer David Gates has said it is really a tribute to honor the memory of his father who had passed away 10 years earlier. The sentiment of wanting to give everything you own to see a loved one again is one many will relate to.
19. Shadow of the Day by Linkin Park
This third single off the album Minutes to Midnight was popular in the U.S. and was on the charts in over a dozen other countries. The lyrics describe the difficulty in letting someone go but also knowing that it may be for the best.
20. I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing by Aerosmith
Originally written for the Armageddon soundtrack, the lyrics describe not wanting to miss out on precious moments with a loved one. The words are general enough that they apply to many types of relationships. A huge hit on its release, the song stayed on at number one on the Billboard 100 for a month.
21. Stop Crying Your Heart Out by Oasis
This tearjerker of a track is all about trying to accept the death of the ones we have lost. While sad, there is also a hopefulness that life moves on and we will one day see them again. Although not released on the American version of the album, the song eventually reached number 11 on the Billboard charts.
22. My Immortal by Evanescence
This downtempo ballad is the third single off Evanescence’s first album, Fallen. The piano, orchestra, and soaring vocals from Amy Lee give the music a transcendental and ethereal quality.
Ben Moody, who wrote the song, has said that it was fictional and not based on any specific person or religion.
23. The Flame by Cheap Trick
This power ballad was the first hit single off of Cheap Trick’s Lap of Luxury album. It hit the number one spot on the Billboard charts and held the position for two weeks.
The “flame” in the song is a symbol of the passion the singer feels for a loved one.
24. Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits
The band wrote this song in reaction to the Falklands War, which was waged at the time it came out in 1985. The song is a ballad sung by a soldier dying on the battlefield.
25. Calling All Angels by Train
The lyrics of this melancholy song describes how the world is falling apart, and the singer invokes the angels to help. It received two Grammy nominations but lost in both categories. The track plays in many television shows, including “Smallville,” “One Tree Hill,” and “CSI: NY.”
26. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor
Originally written by Prince, this power ballad version of the song by Irish singer Sinead O’Connor was one of the biggest hits of the 90s. It hit the number one spot on Billboard charts and remained for four weeks.
The video features O’Connor’s penetrating eyes as she gazes into the camera and pours her heart into the performance.
27. The Funeral by Band of Horses
This is the lead single off the band’s debut record and remains one of its most recognizable songs. The music video depicts a man who lost his dog and spends his time drinking to dull the pain. It’s another song that’s general enough to mean something to anyone who hears it. Make sure there are plenty of tissues available when this one comes on.
28. Katy Song by Red House Painters
Written by Mark Kozelek, he has said interviews that the song and album are hard to listen to because they remind him of the “nine months of worry” that went into making them.
The heartbreaking lyrics are a beautiful expression of loss that people will relate to.
29. Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
Released as a single of the 1993 album Automatic for the People, the band has stated that it wrote the song for teenagers. The lyrics are therapeutic because they remind us that all people feel pain at times and it’s important to keep living.
30. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
Originally written by Leonard Cohen, it was this Jeff Buckley version of the song that made it a commercial hit. Released off the album Grace, this spiritual and soulful tune found a whole new generation of fans, thanks to the Pixar film Shrek.
Alternative rock was one of the most popular genres in the 90s, and the music from that time continues to influence people and artists today. Here’s our list of funeral-appropriate songs from this second golden era of rock.
31. Say Hello 2 Heaven by Temple of the Dog
Chris Cornell wrote this song about his former roommate. In his own words, “The song has become this anthem that makes somebody feel some comfort when they’ve lost someone.” The song eventually reached number five on the Billboard charts.
32. Good Riddance by Green Day
This is the second single off of the album Nimrod and is one of its most popular songs.
It’s written about a girlfriend who moved to another country but the theme of hoping someone leads the best possible life is especially poignant at a funeral. The video won the Best Alternative Music Video award from MTV in 1998.
33. Hear You Me by Jimmy Eat World
This track is a direct tribute from the band for two friends that gave them a place to live for a short time when first arriving in Los Angeles.
These two people die tragically in a car accident en route to a Weezer concert. The earnest vocals and delicate guitar work make this a perfect choice for any solemn occasion.
34. No Surprises by Radiohead
The fourth single off the album OK Computer this song by Thom Yorke tells a sad story of a man working at a job he doesn’t enjoy. The lyrics counterbalance the song’s bright and almost happy melody.
35. Fade Into You by Mazzy Star
Written by Hope Sandoval for the album So Tonight That I Might See, this track was a massive hit when released and reached the number three spot on the Billboard charts. The dreamy, haunting vocals describe a deep love the singer has for someone but never got to tell them.
While somewhat open to interpretation, many will feel a personal connection to the feelings and sentiments described in this beautiful ballad.